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Gogol's Dead Souls: We Like It, But Why?

2089 words - 8 pages

Gogol?s Dead Souls: We Like it, But Why? When we read a novel, most of us are immediately aware of whether or not we actually enjoy reading it. Perhaps we like the author?s fluid style or choice of subject matter. Perhaps the novel?s Byzantine plot or memorable characters intrigue us. It may be a something as simple as an exotic setting or meticulously described romantic scenes. In actuality, though, we often simply know that we just liked the book.And then one reads a novel such as Dead Souls, by Nikolay Vassilyevitch Gogol. The setting, provincial Russia, is far from exotic; the characters, especially the book?s hero, Chichikov, are not likable; and the style, while intriguing, is often erratic and digressive. But somehow, a large number of readers have made the transition from hapless consumer to scholarly critic in order to develop theories that explain why the novel is as successful as it is. In the process of developing these theories, these readers will often discover new and fascinating aspects of the work overlooked on first inspection. The result of this type of close reading is often referred to as an explication, which, as a process, can be likened to exfoliation, for when one makes this transition, it often feels as though the separate layers of the novel may be peeled apart like the skin of an onion.The multiplicity of meanings is what draws the line in the sand between mere fiction and canonized literature such as Dead Souls. Literature, by definition, must be a piece of creative writing with real artistic value. Without diverging into a rambling and surely inept discussion on aesthetics and the meaning of art, I will simply assert that this value may be discerned from three separate vantage points: stylistically, ethically, and comparatively. Dead Souls is a rich, complex piece of literature that may be appreciated on all three of these levels.An appreciation of an author?s style is perhaps the easiest of these three levels to develop, and Gogol is no exception. His powers of description are indeed mighty. Gogol looks at the world as through a microscope; his descriptions are so detailed that they actually become digressions. Gogol begins relating the frock-coated crowds of the fictitious city of N. to a swarm of flies on a sugar loaf and ends up describing the cleaning habits of one such fly in meticulous detail. His lyrical depiction of Plyushkin?s decrepit abode rambles on for several pages. Gogol becomes so enraptured in the act of writing that he sometimes forgets his story. But not to worry--he does not forget his reader. Lines such as, ?However, let us return to the characters of our story,? are quite common in Dead Souls.The tone of Dead Souls strikes an odd balance between fable and sharp reality. The narrator of the novel is overtly present in the novel, and he seems to take rich pleasure in the telling of a good tale. Gogol makes his position as author abundantly clear, often referring to himself directly, and...

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